When the pandemic began, Dr. Mélanie Joanisse created a simple, easy, and funny Guide to Wellness for her frontline co-workers at the Montfort hospital. It immediately took off and has been shared and translated around the world to help healthcare workers everywhere.
“I wrote this in what I would call a hypomanic phase…as psychologists, we always have to pathologize any kind of creativity.”
Dr. Mélanie Joanisse was still processing the fact that she was not going to be able to attend a Pearl Jam concert when she had something of a viral moment in the early days of the pandemic. Can we still say ‘going viral’? Or has that phrase now passed out of the lexicon like so many others before it that conjure unwelcome memories? Anyway, a lot of people suddenly found Dr. Joanisse’s work. Like, a LOT of people. Her ‘Guide To Wellness’ was being discovered.
“I got a call from the communications director at the Montfort hospital, who said ‘what was your marketing and communication strategy for this? [Mélanie laughs heartily] I was like…none? She said we were being bombarded with messages from people who said they like it, and I was starting to receive a lot of emails – even from people in Europe – saying ‘we like this, can we translate it?’ And so I said sure, go for it! So the communications team at the Montfort helped me to create a creative commune so people would understand that they could just take it.”
Dr. Joanisse’s has a private practice in Ottawa, but does a lot of work at the Montfort Hospital, Ontario’s only francophone hospital. When the pandemic first hit, she saw at the Montfort the stress that the staff was experiencing. The sudden worry among doctors and nurses. The occupational therapists and social workers who were wearing masks and gowns, something they would never have done before. It was all hands on deckand changed how everyone was working. She wanted to do whatever she could in her capacity as a psychologist to help.
“As a psychologist I’m not trained in acute care – no one would want me in the ER! So I figured maybe doing a guide would be helpful. I was reading a lot online, and there are a lot of good resources, but I was just picturing a physician or a nurse or an RT sitting down with a list of 25 papers that they could read on wellness. I just pictured them shutting down their computers and saying ‘I don’t have time or the capacity for this’.”
So Dr. Joanisse set about writing something that encompassed as much as possible about the evidence-based ways to wellness, but to package it in a more engaging way. Visually attractive, a little bit funny, and representative of what frontline healthcare workers were experiencing. An easily-digestible light read, rather than another arduous undertaking.
“The only mask you should be wearing is a medical mask; please discard the infallible mask, as research has shown it suffocates its users.”
- From the Guide To Wellness
The humour in the guide comes from Dr. Joanisse herself. She’s extremely funny, in a very natural way, and that good humour has helped her get through this pandemic and all the setbacks. Like the Pearl Jam concert she missed – her first realization of how big COVID-19 was going to be was that cancelation. Or, more recently, the Chiefs loss in the Super Bowl – her husband is a huge Chiefs fan and just after they were married they flew to Kansas City to take in a game at Arrowhead. In 2019, moments before the pandemic really took hold, the Chiefs finally overcame decades of ineptitude to deliver a Super Bowl victory to fans like Mélanie’s husband.
“Last year when they won, it was pre-pandemic so we were at a friend’s house for the Super Bowl. He got up and spontaneously screamed ‘this is the best day of my life!’ There was a silence, and everyone looked at me. I was like, sorry daughter…birth…wedding…I’m just putting that in my pocket. The next time I spend I don’t know what on what, I’m bringing that card out!”
Now, after watching her husband celebrate the greatest day of his life, Dr. Joanisse is something of a Chiefs fan too. This is perhaps more because of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the French-Canadian starting right guard with a doctorate in medicine who left the Chiefs in the offseason to join the front lines of the pandemic back in Montreal. Just the kind of person who might benefit from the Guide to Wellness.
Dr. Joanisse still sees stress in her co-workers at the Montfort. Now, it’s not the stress of uncertainty that existed at the beginning of the pandemic, but rather a stress borne of long hours, fluctuating numbers, a desire for the pandemic to be over, and sheer exhaustion. She’s heartened, however, that many have taken her Guide To Wellness to heart – not only at her own hospital, but at institutions around the world.
“Now I know people in Hawaii, BC, all over the world. All types of different healthcare workers have reached out to me. It has been quite the experience, I have to say. And very moving, to know that this has touched people in that way.”